Finales that Aren’t
Recently, I did a post on knowing when you’re finished your novel and I know that this post sounds like it might be a repeat but it isn’t. There is a difference between finished and finales.
There seems to be a fashion now for trilogies and other multi-book sagas. Whether this urge is driven by readers who want more or authors who have more to say, I don’t know. Personally, I shudder at the idea. If I go for broke in writing a novel, it doesn’t feel as if there is much left for a sequel. Much as I am sorry to say good-bye to my characters when I finish, I don’t usually have any urge to delve back into their lives.
But for those who feel that generational sagas are for them, one word (or more) of advice.
Finales have to be satisfying
You are nearing the end of the first volume of your trilogy and have a good idea of where the next one is going. And you want the end of the first novel on a real cliff-hanger to encourage readers to rush to read the next.
All well and good. However, it’s important to remember that the ending of the novel has to be more than an advert for the next. It needs to be a satisfying ending in and of itself.
What does satisfying mean? Relax, doesn’t have to be a happy ending, nor do all the strands need to be tied up neatly. Your main character may not even triumph. His failure might be a very satisfying ending. The right one, not the happy one.
But it does need to at least provide a resolution—perhaps not the final—but an answer to the goal your protagonist set out to achieve and has motivated him to action.
If you don’t, the end of the novel will feel as if you’ve kind of stopped in mid-sentence. It will annoy the reader who will feel, perhaps rightly, that she’s been vaguely cheated. And will not encourage the purchase of the next book of the trilogy.
The Hunger Games
The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins is a good example of getting this right. The first volume, The Hunger Games, ends (spoiler alert) with the two main characters Katniss and Peeta, deciding to die together rather than give the authoritarian regime what it wants—a clear victor to the Games. The two are both declared victors and so the novel reaches a satisfying conclusion.
However, the kernels of the next novel are sewn in that Katniss is seen as a dangerous enemy because she engineered this perceived defeat of the government. How she becomes a symbol of the resistance is depicted in the second book of the series, Catching Fire.
Here is an example of planting the seeds of the next book while effectively providing a fulfilling finish to this story.
So, make sure that the reader is happy because there is plot closure even if with a continuing story. It’s one way to up the chances that your next novel will be eagerly anticipated.